The Invisible Homeless

The Invisible Homeless

An undercover epidemic
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We see them at intersections of busy highways, cardboard sign in hand, oftentimes very rugged in appearance.

We see them when we volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters, oftentimes lined up all the way out the door.

We see them in large cities, oftentimes being approached by a police officer.

But when it comes to homeless people, there are more than meet the eye.

Typically, the word 'homeless' brings to mind images like the ones shared above- it is an urban issue, with people living on the streets, asking strangers for spare change. The population is visible, strikingly so. Yes, this highly apparent type of homelessness is generally associated with the alleys and park benches of metropolitan areas.

But there is another type of homelessness, one that often eludes public recognition and policy. It is virtually impossible to find in records and research and is often mistaken for poverty. In fact, most researchers literally call individuals in this situation 'the invisible homeless'.

This invisible category of homelessness is characterized by individuals who do not necessarily lack shelter, but they do lack stability. It is most often found in rural areas, where it is more unlikely to see people actually living on the street and equally unlikely to see an emergency shelter within reasonable walking distance. The general lack of accessible resources in rural areas is why homelessness is and should be an even more pervasive issue in these settings.

While the rural homeless may not be sleeping on city sidewalks or in public places, they are not any less homeless than their urban counterparts. They may be sleeping in their car, a church, an abandoned building, or, most commonly, on the couch of a relative or friend. Rural areas tend to be comprised of closer family units and interpersonal relationships than urban centers, so it is likely that family and friends will take in an individual in a homeless situation. Unfortunately, this pattern has become somewhat normalized and can prevent a person from seeking further services. In general, citizens of rural areas see homelessness as a temporary situation rather than a chronic condition. It is seen as the result of economic hardship rather than long-term and long-lasting influences and stressors. Thus, the individual is often encouraged to seek a new job as the solution to all their problems. However, attributing homelessness to only one factor is not always helpful.

For the past ten weeks, I have been collecting anecdotal evidence of homelessness in rural American Indian communities in North Carolina. A major recurring theme is that individuals and families end up living in homes with several other occupants because the homeowner refused to "let" the needy individual be homeless. The misconception is that as long as there is a roof over their head, the person is not homeless. This is not the case, even though federal policy can sometimes allow it to be as such. Some policies account for housing instability as homelessness, while others do not. In rural situations, homelessness absolutely should include individuals and families who are unable to obtain and/or maintain housing. As in the case of the American Indian communities, just because someone has family who will not let them sleep, literally, outside does not mean they are not experiencing chronic homelessness. Also, rural homelessness, just like urban homelessness, is not one dimensional. It is not simply the result of economic hardship and underdevelopment. It can be attributed to unfair housing shortages, substance abuse, mental health stigmatization, historic discrimination and disadvantage, and severe economic disparity. These have all been cited as issues in the communities I have worked in, but they are under-served due to the disparity of resources seen in rural areas. This is an unfortunate truth across the board of rural populations, and it needs to be addressed.

Homelessness exists everywhere, and it exists in many different ways. Just like everybody else, the people in these situations are experiencing them on a spectrum, and our resources and policies that are being made to help them need to exist on a spectrum as well. Ending homelessness will not happen with a one-size-fits-all approach; we must acknowledge all of its categories.

Remember, just because you cannot see it, does not mean it's not there.

Cover Image Credit: Huffington Post

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To The Parent Who Chose Addiction

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

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When I was younger I resented you, I hated every ounce of you, and I used to question why God would give me a parent like you. Not now. Now I see the beauty and the blessings behind having an addict for a parent. If you're reading this, it isn't meant to hurt you, but rather to thank you.

Thank you for choosing your addiction over me.

Throughout my life, you have always chosen the addiction over my programs, my swim meets or even a simple movie night. You joke about it now or act as if I never questioned if you would wake up the next morning from your pill and alcohol-induced sleep, but I thank you for this. I thank you because I gained a relationship with God. The amount of time I spent praying for you strengthened our relationship in ways I could never explain.

SEE ALSO: They're Not Junkies, You're Just Uneducated

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

The amount of hurt and disappointment our family has gone through has brought us closer together. I have a relationship with Nanny and Pop that would never be as strong as it is today if you had been in the picture from day one. That in itself is a blessing.

Thank you for showing me how to love.

From your absence, I have learned how to love unconditionally. I want you to know that even though you weren't here, I love you most of all. No matter the amount of heartbreak, tears, and pain I've felt, you will always be my greatest love.

Thank you for making me strong.

Thank you for leaving and for showing me how to be independent. From you, I have learned that I do not need anyone else to prove to me that I am worthy of being loved. From you, I have learned that life is always hard, but you shouldn't give into the things that make you feel good for a short while, but should search for the real happiness in life.

Most of all, thank you for showing me how to turn my hurt into motivation.

I have learned that the cycle of addiction is not something that will continue into my life. You have hurt me more than anyone, but through that hurt, I have pushed myself to become the best version of myself.

Thank you for choosing the addiction over me because you've made me stronger, wiser, and loving than I ever could've been before.

Cover Image Credit: http://crashingintolove.tumblr.com/post/62246881826/pieffysessanta-tumblr-com

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Public Health May Be The Most Important Area To Focus On As A Society

I saw with my own eyes the importance of public health initiatives in villages throughout Honduras and Nicaragua.

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Medical exploration and healthcare management has thrived throughout the 21st century, with major developments in epidemiology allowing organizations such as the World Health Organization of the United Nations to track the spread of preventable diseases such as malaria and influenza across impoverished countries worldwide. I saw with my own eyes the importance of public health initiatives in villages throughout Honduras and Nicaragua when I traveled there as a Brigadier with Stony Brook's Public Health Brigade, a coalition organized by Global Brigades during the Summers of 2016 and 2017.

Working alongside other university collaborations such as Boston University, I was mesmerized by the impact that improvements such as clean water through mountain pipelines and sustainable housing could do in reducing the severity of Zika virus outbreaks in the region, as accentuated by the near 8,400 villagers with access to clean water as a result of our efforts.

These experiences demonstrated to me the value of preventative measures highlighted by the public health approach — by attacking the origin of a disease and the medium through which it spreads instead of merely treating the manifestation of its symptoms, a holistic approach would allow for the eradication of a malady throughout an entire region whilst educating the local populations about the importance of proper hygiene practices and fortified infrastructure to prevent its re-eminence. It is for this reason that I feel inspired to pursue a graduate degree in Public Health as a professional, so that I can help contribute to the eradication of preventable illnesses across the globe.

A specific area of interest that I wish to target as a field of study would be the impact of sustainable housing in the eradication of illnesses such as lead poisoning through contaminated water sources. My own experience in this particular aspect of Public Health Administration as a Brigadier with Stony Brook Public Health Brigade showed me the importance of secure infrastructure in the reduction of preventable diseases as an especially pertinent area of community health in the United States, highlighted by the water toxicity crisis in Flint, Michigan.

A recent study released by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha at Hurley Medical Center noted an uptick in the blood-lead concentration of Flint Children from 2.4% to 4.9% after changing their water source, with spikes as high as 10.6% in correlation with elevated levels of lead in Flint water. These elevated blood-lead concentrations put these children at higher risk for lead poisoning, characterized by reduced growth rate and learning difficulties. Purification of the available water sources throughout the region would be a comprehensive long-term solution to reducing elevated blood-lead levels amongst Flint residents.

My goals after my master's degree in public health would be to pursue a medical education and become a doctor, or go into Healthcare Administration and eventually work with the WHO of the UN to establish a more easily accessible Healthcare system across various countries to increase the number of people in impoverished areas that can be reached by doctors, nurses and other primary care practitioners. I feel that a proper understanding of public health would, therefore, be essential to establishing my career in service to humanity.

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